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Remembering Pogo

Jon Carroll writing for the San Francisco Chronicle writes his fond memories of the great Pogo strip.

Pogo had it all: love, fear, friendship, ambivalence, pails of water, morality, plus a love of high-flown language and, not incidentally, wonderful draftsmanship. Kelly was a master of getting a lot of stuff in one small panel.

One good thing about the strip is that, once you started reading it in earnest, the characters did not take long to establish their identities and their personalities. Albert was both brave and cowardly, Howland Owl was both wise and stupid, and Miz Mam’zelle Hepzibah was both a parody of a sex symbol and an actual sex symbol. (What, you don’t like the skunk with the flirtatious attitude and the beeg fluffy tail?)

Community Comments

#1 John Cole
@ 9:46 am

Paraphrasing Steve Earle, “I will stand on George Herriman’s, Charles Schulz’s and Bill Watterson’s coffee tables in my cowboy boots and declare that Walt Kelly was the 20th century’s greatest comic strip artist.”

#2 Steve Skelton
@ 10:13 am

Off topic, but a lyric from my new favorite song from his new album:

I am a labourer sign round my neck:
“Will work for dignity trust and respect”.
Stand on this corner so you don’t forget
I haven’t had mine yet.

#3 b.j. Dewey
@ 12:03 pm

I’ve wondered why Pogo still isn’t running somewhere or being written about or referred to more often, at least as often as Peanuts & Schulz, Watterson & C&H or even Harriman & Krazy Kat. But this article touches on it : “(After Kelly died, his widow tried carrying on, but by that time newspapers were shrinking comics so much that Pogo became unintelligible. It was not a great moment in journalism.)”

I think by this he means, at least in part, the extensive and exquisite drawing detail in a Pogo strip, even in one panel (which often could have been a strip in itself), and the enormous number of characters and dialogue, again, even in just one panel. There is just SO MUCH in one Pogo panel or strip, that the pathetic space for comics in today’s newspapers would make it impossible to appreciate its beauty. I can’t think of another strip that would suffer more in these conditions.

It’s good to see this article and thanks for passing it along.

#4 Tony Kinnard
@ 12:10 pm

I would love to check out Pogo, but most of the book collections are out-of-print, and that Complete collection keeps getting its first volume’s release pushed back. Two of my favorite artists (Bill Watterson and Jeff Smith) list Pogo as an influence, so it would be neat to check it out someday.

#5 John Cole
@ 1:26 pm

All one needs is a decent copy of “10 Ever-Lovin’ Blue-Eyed Years of Pogo,” which compiled the best stuff from the strip’s first decade. Albert and Beauregard’s Great Thinkin’ Contest. Simple J. Malarkey. P.T. Bridgeport’s introduction. It was some of the funniest and most exquisitely rendered stuff ever to grace newsprint.

#6 John Platt
@ 3:15 am

The thing is with Pogo is it was just to hard to read and understand for the average person. A lot of what we (highly literate comic strip readers)would find funny would just appear as complete nonsensical gibberish to most people. In short a great strip for a highly selective audience.

#7 Dave Stephens
@ 4:01 am

I was once a not-very-literate boy of 8 years old and I LOVED Pogo and though I didn’t get the political references, I “got” the humor and I “got” the character development, too… As I grew older, I began to appreciate the artwork as well – Walt Kelly was the first artist I would put the title of “Genius” to without hesitation… What a towering achievement he gave the world…

#8 John Platt
@ 4:35 am

Dave, so why did it not get into more than 600 papers? The average person/editor just couldn’t accept it.

#9 Brian Fies
@ 10:10 am

John, I agree with your #6 post–readers had to be smart and pay attention to “get” Pogo–and my reply to your #8 post would be the example of Krazy Kat: widely regarded by the best and brightest as the closest comic strips have come to producing High Art and appeared in very few papers, surviving only because Hearst loved it. I’m also with Dave Stephens: I discovered Pogo at age 9 via published collections my Dad owned, including the excellent “10 Ever-Lovin’ Blue-Eyed Years,” and had no trouble catching on to most of it. That said, I’ve met more than one very successful currently working cartoonist who confessed with a shrug that they just never understood or liked Pogo. Individual taste: what’re’ya gonna do?

I guess I’m feeling agreeable today, because I will stand on those coffee tables with John Cole, in particular with respect to Schulz. I think Kelly could do everything Schulz did, including the pathos and rich character development; I don’t think Schulz could do everything Kelly did. In my entirely personal, subjective pantheon, Kelly stands a quarter-inch taller than Schulz.

Now don’t get me started on McCay.

#10 Gerry Mooney
@ 11:02 am

When I was little and devoured the comics pages every day, Pogo always seemed like a “grownup” strip, with adult humor and drawing that was so sophisticated I almost couldn’t imagine it was drawn by a real person!

#11 Andrew Farago
@ 12:29 pm

There are always at least a few Pogo books available in any decent used bookstore, often for ten bucks or less, so go that route if you haven’t read any yet.

The Fantagraphics complete collection is scheduled to start up in December after a number of false starts. I’ve heard that the earliest strips required a lot more clean-up than expected, since it was difficult to find the source material in great condition, but subsequent volumes should be easier to assemble.

#12 b.j. Dewey
@ 5:07 pm

As a kid, I loved the main characters but often missed the storylines. Pogo’s kindness and gentleness, his great friend Porky Pine, Albert and Beauregard – those were my favorites. When I was old enough to understand the strip, they were still my favorite characters, but I could appreciate them in more depth. That’s typical of a classic – that it can be appreciated on many, sometimes endless levels.

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